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That’s a wrap! 9 things we learned in the Broncos’ preseason finale win over the Cardinals

What we learned in the Broncos final preseason contest.

Arizona Cardinals v Denver Broncos
Did Hogan do enough to stick around as QB2?
Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

No doubt this will be the last stop for some NFL careers tonight. Cuts have already begun in the lead up to the Saturday’s deadline. For that reason, there should be little doubt as to the effort the players put out tonight.

Here’s what I learned.

1. Demaryius Thomas had a huge night for the Patriots.

So this one’s kind of unrelated, but as I sat watching Trevor Lawrence run the read option on Georgia Tech I couldn’t help but notice D.T. blowing it up in the fourth preseason game of the year.

It’s the first game action for Thomas since tearing his Achilles last season, so it’s cool to see him looking decent. Just wish it wasn’t for the Brady bunch.

2. Shamarko Thomas getting hurt may have secured him a job.

With Dymonte Thomas on crutches two days ago, another injury striking the safety position is not great. Shamarko Thomas got hurt on the Broncos’ opening kickoff and it left Su’a Cravens with a lot of snaps in the first half.

It probably didn’t help him move ahead of the Thomases.

As I’ve said a couple times this preseason, I believe Fangio wants to keep Cravens for his upside. He’s a former second-rounder who some had given first round grades.

Unfortunately, he’s a safety who seems to get worse the farther away from the line of scrimmage he plays. Add in the fact that he clearly lags behind both of the Thomases on special teams, and it creates a tight situation.

Cravens did have one redeeming play near the end of the first half when he stripped Caleb Wilson, but given his so-so special teams performance to date and Fangio’s statement that the veteran has to make the team as a safety first and foremost, he’s perilously close to unemployment.

He will be one to watch over the coming days.

3. Justin Hollins and Malik Reed. Still very good.

One of the things that stood out in the first half of the game is how the rookies suiting up who looked like locks on my final roster projection continued to look like locks.

Malik Reed and Justin Hollins terrorized the Cardinals all half.

The move to cut Dekoda Watson is a bit of a gamble by Fangio and Elway, but so far the rookies look much further along than anyone expected.

With injuries limiting the flexibility on the rest of the roster, it makes sense to give the kids the spots. They’ve done all they could to show they’re ready for them.

One other rookie to keep an eye on over the next couple days is Ahmad Gooden (94). He’s been overshadowed by Reed and Hollins but has quietly had a very promising first training camp and has stood out on special teams.

If he doesn’t make the final roster, I fully expect the Broncos to try and stash him on the practice squad.

4. Colby Wadman isn’t going anywhere.

If you’ve been following along since camp opened, you know I’ve been pretty lukewarm on Wadman. With Denver’s altitude, it’s fair to expect both the Broncos’ kicking positions to perform at an above-average rate at home.

And Wadman’s 2018 was... okay.

Outside of his shank in the Rams’ game, Wadman has been alright this preseason. He hasn’t had competition for weeks now and despite some hoping it will come, I now believe he’ll be locked in as the Broncos’ punter in 2019.

Let’s hope it’s the right call.

5. Kevin Hogan does a little to inspire... and disappoint.

One of the scarier parts of Drew Lock’s injury is how close it gets Hogan to real NFL action. He came to the Broncos last year as QB3 after Paxton Lynch was cut and only found his way to the primary backup after Chad Kelly’s off-field issues.

Going into the game tonight, Fangio had said he wanted to see separation from Hogan and undrafted rookie Brett Rypien. Early on, it looked like the veteran was going to deliver what his coach asked for.

In all reality, the touchdown marked the end of the positive part of his night. He’s a true third-string quarterback and started to turn into a pumpkin as the game wore on.

This isn’t a huge surprise. Hogan’s good enough to stick around the very tail end of NFL rosters, but nowhere near steady enough to give you confidence if he’s behind center.

Tonight was no different. He made a couple of decent plays, but also made a woefully bad interception.

6. The Broncos’ offensive line battle gets a little clarity.

Going into the game tonight, I had the Broncos’ bubble competition along the offensive line between Jake Rodgers, John Leglue, Austin Schlottmann, Jake Brendel, and Sam Jones.

Rodgers played left tackle for the second consecutive game, and for the second consecutive game he looked completely out of his depth. With Elijah Wilkinson offering guard/tackle versatility, Rodgers was already facing an uphill battle to make it. After tonight I suspect his chance at the Broncos, and possibly the league, is in jeopardy.

On the interior, it seemed notable that Schlottmann was named a captain prior to the game, but what really caught my eye was the play in the second half.

Khalfani Muhammad’s big play will be one of the bigger buzz-worthy plays of the night and for good reason, but he followed some really solid blocks by Leglue and Jones. On the previous play Jake Brendel (64) also stood out for giving him space to make it into the second level.

While the backup line has gotten its share of flak this preseason, Brendel has been a promising pass blocker.

He’s played mostly center, so he may still wind up on the practice squad behind the more versatile Schlottmann, but with Conner McGovern’s contract expiring after the 2019 season, he may be doing enough to stick around under Munchak.

7. Khalfani Muhammad has a chance.

Running back is one of the hardest spots to make it on this Broncos roster. Obviously Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay aren’t going anywhere. I suspect Devontae Booker offers the right mix of size and skill in the passing game to stick, especially with Theo Riddick out to start the year.

The big question at the position centers on Elway’s comments to the 9News broadcast team. When he was in the booth he made it clear Riddick is a potential IR candidate, which suggests the shoulder injury is more problematic than previously thought.

If Riddick’s out for extended time, Muhammad’s mix of speed, receiving ability, and return potential gives him a shot to make the roster for now.

8. Linden Stephens is CB5. For now.

It remains to be seen if Elway and Fangio pursue someone cut from around the league to shore up the secondary depth, but as has been the case since Horace Richardson’s injury, Stephens stood out as the best cornerback playing tonight with the second and third team guys.

One team to watch tomorrow and Saturday has to be the Bears, though.

With Chuck Pagano’s system installed in Chicago, there’s a possibility someone is let go because of the regime change. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if their familiarity with Fangio’s scheme leads to interest from the Broncos’ Don of defense.

In other news, I suspect undrafted rookie Alijah Holder sticks around.

9. Brett Rypien looks like a rookie.

The big thing that helped Hogan tonight was how Brett Rypien again failed to outshine him. Coming out of Boise State, his ability to deliver with anticipation and read the field accurately were reasons I was so high on him.

Unfortunately, he’s still a rookie swimming in the NFL complexity, and it shows.

Tonight he had an interception where he failed to lead Juwann Winfree and wasn’t bailed out. He was also late on a couple of throws. Lock had many of the same issues when he was playing, but where Lock has the kind of arm talent and mobility to occasionally bail him out of trouble, Rypien has a smaller margin for error because of his limited physical talents.

I remain optimistic about Rypien in the long term, but he’s far enough away that Elway and the Broncos should be able to stash him on the practice squad this season.

The question becomes: will they want to?

Final thoughts

This 20-7 win will serve as the end of the road for guys who have poured a lifetime of blood, sweat, and tears into their dream. If there’s no other thing taken from this game, it’s that it’s been a fun ride this preseason and we ought to wish every one of the prospective 2019 Broncos all the best going forward.

Now let’s turn our eyes to the Oakland Raiders.